First-rate deals at secondhand shops

The slumping economy might spell trouble for retail, but resale is booming.
This October, the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops reported that August sales were up in most of the 200 stores it surveyed, according to the editors of Consumer Reports Money Adviser. Floor traffic was rising, too.
Quality merchandise at bargain prices can be found in the secondhand marketplace, but there are other benefits to buying pre-owned. Money spent at the Salvation Army’s 1,371 thrift stores goes toward that nonprofit’s efforts to provide basic social services, disaster relief and other good work. Goodwill’s revenues help fund job training and placement for needy and disabled people. Not buying new is also green — used goods are being recycled and kept out of landfills.
Consumer Reports Money Adviser offers some tips on smart shopping and where to find the best deals.
Nonprofit thrift stores
These stores often offer great selection, good quality and better-than-bargain prices. For example, decent clothing might cost $5 to $20, while furniture may cost $30 to $100. The merchandise is generally in good shape.
Tips: Shop on Mondays, right after the donations that came in over the weekend move from the loading dock to the sales floor. Since most merchandise is donated by residents in the surrounding towns, check out thrift stores in affluent areas, where unwanted goods are often more stylish and like new. And shop online at www.shopgoodwill.com for upscale bargains and auctions of designer clothing, jewelry and artwork, which often come with appraisals.
Consignment shops
Unlike a thrift store, a consignment shop is something of a middleman. Instead of accepting donations, they display and sell used merchandise for individual sellers in return for a percentage. Many consignment shops sell designer-label clothing, and savings range from 50 percent to 90 percent off retail prices.
Tips: Don’t confuse consignment stores with vintage shops, which are something like antique clothing stores and are pricier. Consignment stores can be found in the Yellow Pages or by doing a Web search. Shops sometimes have “bag sales” — the bags contain clothing that the seller abandoned, so the price is super-low to clear floor space.
Secondhand stores
These are for-profit stores that buy used merchandise from individuals, mark up the price, and resell it at substantially below retail. Play It Again Sports, a chain of 360 stores, illustrates the bargain concept perfectly: Kids often lose interest in sports, or they simply outgrow their shin guards, cleats, skis, boots, skates or whatever long before the expensive equipment wears out.
Winmark, the franchisor of Play It Again Sports, also franchises Once Upon a Child (secondhand children’s clothing, toys, furniture and equipment), Plato’s Closet (teen clothing and accessories) and Music Go Round (musical instruments, speakers, amplifiers and related electronics).
Tips: Never pay retail to equip a child’s often fleeting interests. Consumer Reports Money Adviser recommends buying used and trying to sell stuff bought at full price to a secondhand shop.
Garage sales
Neighborhood garage and moving sales offer all kinds of good stuff.
Tips: Before the weekend prime time for garage sales, check local newspapers or go to www.craigslist.com or www.pennysaverusa.com/garagesales for listings. Target moving sales first, since those sellers are eager to lighten their moving burden and might be unloading decent-quality goods. Get there early — even before the sale starts — for the best selection, and grab must-have bargains. But come back late in the day for the best deals, when sellers are tired and just want to get rid of the merchandise.

Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.

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